The discovery of new wines is part and parcel of a life dedicated to the vine. Like a scavenger hunt, this is one of the things that makes wine competitions so rewarding.
At a recent Monterey Wine Competition, I had several Sauvignon Blancs on my panel. Specifically, my panelmates swore they were from New Zealand or Australia. It was grassy, had lots of grapefruit, kiwi and guava, and blew us away with its strong acidity, and yet it had a great texture. They were stunned to learn that this 2021 J. There was a Lohr Arroyo Seiko Flume Crossing SB ($14). It stood proudly next to the 2021 Duck Hunter (NZ, $19.99), which won Best SB.
Jay Lohr White Winemaker Kristen Barnheisel tells us that the trick to keeping Sauvignon Blanc fresh and pungent is to choose it “beyond bell peppers and jalapenos.” Sauvignon Blanc produces a wealth of insanely loud flavors, including those very botanical pyrazines that taste like green peppers and chilies. Let it cook for a bit, and the lime, lemongrass and grapefruit begin to dominate and the green pepper disappears. Wait a while and it turns into very ripe pineapple and eventually into tropical fruit punch with guava, mango and even banana. It’s a saucy shape-shift grape, that one.
J. The secrets of Lohr’s highly popular Flume Crossing SB (they now make 20,000 cases, and demand continues to increase) are threefold: great vineyards, a great clone, and the use of acacia wood. Grower Michael Grieva has been a partner of Lohrs for decades, and their fruit is impeccable. He grows the musky clone of Sauvignon Blanc, which has a more floral aroma and a weightier mid-palate than other clones.
Barnheisel attributes the long growing season and persistent winds at Arroyo Seco to slow ripening daily, to the accumulation of intense fruit flavors that build up over time. She uses 30% acacia wood and 70% stainless for three or four months of aging after fermentation. The result is a thick and weighty take on NZ style, with a semblance of California maturity.
Best Chardonnay in Monterey Wine Competition Brilliantly sunny and rich Diora from the renowned San Bernabé Vineyard ($40) in Monterey went to Best Dry Rosé for 2019 La Grande Lumire Chardonnay and Seaglas 2020 Rosé from Monterey County ($12). Best sparkling brut went to J Vineyards NV Brut QV California ($25). All of these wines can be found in grocery and retail stores.
Diora chardonnay is created by winemaker James Ewart, an Australian by birth who grew up helping his father make the wine. An internship brought him to King City, where he has happily spent most of his adult life, living just around the corner from the Delicato family winery facility where he works. San Bernabé Vineyards is vast at 1,500 acres, although it was once much larger. Ewart carefully selects the best fruits to make Diora, a tier that debuted in 2013.
Derived from the French word for gold, “diora” describes this Chardonnay perfectly. It’s truly indulgent, like someone who prefers a trip to the spa over a trip to the gym.
Best Wine of Show went to Lightpost Winery 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Paso Robles ($65). The lightpost is in Morgan Hill and features a lovely selection of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from bubbles to blends, and made by Christian Rognant. Best Pinot Noir from Sierra Mar Vineyard in Santa Lucia Highlands ($55) Also went to Wines’ 2018 Pinot, a truly complex and elegant wine from a highly sought-after vineyard cultivated by Gary Francioni and Marc Pisoni. Also just opened a tasting room in Healdsburg, where they are pouring several vineyards from top Pinot Noir sites.
Speaking of Pinot, don’t miss the upcoming Santa Cruz Mountains Grand Tasting at The Mountain Winery, Sunday, April 24, 1-4 p.m., featuring many of our region’s wineries. You get the VIP ticket at 12:30 PM.